About this course
Commonplace: The Worth of the Working Landscape
The agrarian landscape of the Middle West is shaped land – altered with extraordinary effort and determination for the benefit of its inhabitants; marked by the regular patterns of machines and an improvisational resistance to relentless natural forces. The former wilderness of prairies, forests and lakes was first understood in terms of potential utility. Early Midwestern settlers looked upon complex ecological systems in stable states of equilibrium, and saw only abundant land, rich soil, and predictable seasons.
Inhabitants developed what would become an unrivalled agro-economic network and a set of culture practices that would thoroughly re-organized the nature of Nature. In the drive for bounty and dominion, this vast wilderness became a built environment, where the construction of artificial systems, like irrigation ditches, supplanted natural ones, like rivers and streams.
Commonplace: Trending Scenarios
A half-century later, new generations recalibrated their efforts towards industrialization, fueled by technology, energy resources, immigration, and reliable infrastructure – in effect, increasing the land’s carrying capacity, and further decoupling people from natural systems. Today, terms like breadbasket or rustbelt are applied in equally nostalgic ways. Neither term is as true as it once was, and inhabitants are faced with shrinking labor markets, resource scarcity, and extreme environmental degradation. As a result, a cultural torpor has settled over an increasingly inert and invariant landscape...
This seminar is organized as a series of lectures and discussions focusing on themes that have framed a Midwestern ethos [nature + culture]. Our landscape patterns and practices have matured, and we can reflect on the outcomes of transformation. Participants will speculate about contemporary and future scenarios of the region by examine its multiple legacies, ever evolving cultural signifiers, and conflicting layers of temporal change.
4 credit hours